I understand the whole “If you want it bad enough you’ll develop self-control,” argument towards getting healthy. But damn, can you really have a bag of chips sitting in front of you every time you open your cupboard and not eat them? Not I. No, I am too weak for that. Yes I’ve developed self-control far above what I once had. Yes, I no longer crave certain foods, and favor healthier options instead. But not always. There needs to be a good balance between power over your decisions when offered poor choices, and simply not allowing the presence of those poor choices. The easiest way to eat healthy is to make eating healthy the easiest option. Make sense? Buy good food, eat good food. Can’t fall for the temptation to eat a whole bag of chips if you don’t have access to them! We are going to talk about stocking a kitchen with nutritious staples for health, to set yourself up for success.
Maybe you’re saying, “I already know what to do here, buy rice cakes instead of crackers, no brainer,” well you’re wrong. We aren’t going to replace processed bullshit with more processed bullshit. Don’t fall for what general society sees as healthy. I’ll say this a million times before I die. Do. Your. Research. Fill your house with real, whole, unprocessed food and learn how to cook. Of course there will be convenience buys that are still good choices. But on the whole, buy whole.
Related: How I’ve Lost over 110 pounds
So let’s get started. We are going to go over these staples category by category. This run down is going to cover an ideal stocked kitchen. Of course I don’t always have everything I’m going to list here; I’m a human on a reallllllly tight budget. But I’m trying. I’m learning. I’m improving. Someday, with enough work, I’ll have most of my ducks in a row.
Your pantry staples are to include dry goods, canned goods, spices, drink materials, oils, vinegars, and all things stable at room temperature.
Dry goods – Keep an ample amount of dry legumes/pulses stocked in your pantry. Skip buying canned varieties, they are usually loaded with salt and unnecessary additives. Dried varieties are extraordinarily cost-effective. Dried beans and the like can be cooked up in so many ways, they can even be sprouted for improved nutrient absorption and ease of digestion. This food group is high in fiber and plant-based protein, as well as complex carbohydrates. If you experience gas from eating beans, you are not alone. Legumes have; Saponins that prevent proper protein digestion, phytic acid that prevents nutrient and mineral uptake, and some even contain oligosaccharides, a complex sugar that humans cannot break down – we cannot produce the necessary enzyme for the job. Proper preparation and cooking pretty much negates all of these points, and though many folks (hello paleo) demonize legumes, we’ve evolved past Homo Erectus (literally) and can have these things in our diet.
There are a lot of tips out there for cooking beans the right way, but I’ll pass along the most relevant; Soak for at least 48 hours, replace the water several times during this period, after reaching a boil cook them at a simmer for an extended amount of time, and sprout them if you can. Regular consumption also aids in ease of their digestion.
Keep beluga (black) lentils, split or whole peas (whole have their hulls still and contain more fiber), French lentils, red lentils, and whatever lentils you like most. Black beans, kidney beans, mung beans (great for sprouts), red beans (also known as Mexican red beans). Chickpeas, and, if you want you can go with the familiar pinto bean, but let me introduce you to the pinto bean’s better looking, better tasting, easier to digest sister – the Anasazi bean.
Holy crickey these suckers are tasty. I was first introduced to these cute little buggers circa age 10 on a family trip to Dove Creek, Colorado. These are considered an heirloom bean, and were known to have been consumed by, you guessed it, the Anasazi. Cool little bit of history in your lunch. These guys are almost exclusively grown in the four corners area – find some to buy and you are very likely supporting a family farm. Good for you.
Nuts and seeds – Nuts and seeds are some of the hardest working foods out there. They are extremely nutrient dense, full of healthy heart and brain loving fats, protein, fiber, minerals and vitamins. Treat your mind, heart, and body right by eating a wide variety of nuts and seeds. Find them raw (un-roasted and unsalted) for the most bang for your buck. If you just have to have them roasted and salted, do it yourself without added oil and at a low temperature, with a mineral dense salt. Most roasted varieties you can buy are just absolutely wrecked – blasted at very high temperatures in unnecessary oils and worthless table salt. You’re cheating yourself out of good nutrition with these options. Don’t forget these are not low-calorie…
Almonds. First and foremost in the hierarchy, almonds. Raw almonds are, in my opinion, far more delicious than roasted anyways. They are sweet and soft and delicious. Pistachios are lower in fat than most nuts and contain a wild amount of antioxidants. Walnuts, pecans, cashews (yummmmmm) Brazil nuts (in moderation even more so than others…) Peanuts (yes they are a legume, but this is akin to the whole tomato is a fruit thing…)
Pumpkin (and other winter squash seeds) are incredibly tasty powerhouses. Shell on for squash seeds! Sunflower seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, sesame seeds (black for more antioxidant power!) are all awesome options. Seeds can also be sprouted! So many ways to eat things….I’m hungry.
Grains – I don’t keep a lot of grains hanging around, most of them just don’t work hard enough for me. I get plenty of carbs from legumes, fruits, and vegetables – but some do make the cut!
Quinoa is the head of this little list. But wait. Quinoa is actually a seed. Here we go again…it just fits more smoothly into our mental schema of grains. Though it is more expensive than rice, its nutrient content makes it much more cost-effective in my eyes. Quinoa, though still a carb from my point of view, is an incredible complete plant protein. This means it contains all nine essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce themselves, so must consume. Curious? The nine are the shadows of what once were great men, all given a ring of power by Saur…oh wait; nine essential amino acids…right…my bad. The nine aminos we must consume are phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, and valine. High in fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, this is the king of ‘grains’.
I’ve heard good things about Amaranth as a close second to quinoa, though I have no experience with it, I plan to purchase some for experimentation in the near future. Apparently you can pop it much like popcorn, something I try to stay away from due to the low nutritive worth of corn in my daily life….sounds exciting. Do you have any experience with Amaranth? Let me know in the comments below, I’d be interested to hear!
I also like to have wild rice around for occasional use. Not a wild rice blend. Straight up wild rice. It does not come cheap, however – another reason I use it so sparingly. Oats hang around on the shelf too, despite their high carb to everything else ratio. Opt for the least processed options for better nutrition – oat groats, steel cut, or stone ground. Skip rolled, quick, and instant oats. There is no need for all that processing.
“Pastas” – Ya’ll I really can’t manage without eating some type of noodle. Noodles are too damn good. I won’t eat traditional noodles though; I make sure to give myself that small advantage. I’m always on the lookout for noodles made from non-traditional flours, like quinoa and legume flours. These things exist and are sometimes, with greater and greater frequency, executed amazingly. This means nutrient dense pasta that is worth your time and effort. Yassss. Again, don’t forget to read nutrition labels. Many brands are adding minuscule amounts of these nutrient dense flours to an otherwise traditional pasta and labeling it in misleading ways.
Canned Goods – I really thought I kept more canned things around when I formatted this post. Really though, the only canned things I really like to buy are Pumpkin, tuna, sometimes canned chicken, and tomato products. I use pumpkin all the time. All. The. Time. I absolutely always want it around for so many reasons. First of all, it works great to ease digestion and upset dog and cat stomachs. It’s like ginger ale for us, this stuff is a lifesaver for your pets, keep it around for them. Other than that, I add it to everything. Seriously though, everything. It stretches out recipes with great amounts of fiber and vitamins, while lending only a touch of rustic flavor. Always a solid choice. Honestly, when I find a cost-effective freeze-dried brand of pumpkin puree, I’m skipping the cans. Freeze drying is the way. Same goes for tomato products; chopped, sauce paste, etc. All of it is convenient to have around, but I hope to go the freeze drying way in the future. It is far superior for preserving nutrients, and is shelf stable for an insane amount of time.
Oils and Vinegars: I’m known to drink certain vinegars like a fiend. There’s this German brand of vinegar our family has always used to make salad dressing with, and holy moley. That stuff is sippin quality. It’s called Salata, but as far as finding it, good luck if you don’t have a German store in town. Always keep a multitude of vinegars on hand for marinades and dressings. Apple cider vinegar is a must have staple; with a ridiculous amount of minerals and health benefits, it is probably the number one. White vinegar, red wine vinegar, and balsamic vinegar are all great to have on hand.
Oils are necessary for cooking and dressing as well. A variety is a solid plan of action here, just like in any other case. Start with your standard extra virgin olive oil. Avocado oil, walnut, flax, grape seed and sesame oils all impart wonderful flavors and bring different nutritional quality to the table. I generally use coconut oil more for external applications than cooking due to its high saturated fat content, but it is also something I like to have on hand. Try to skip oils that are partially hydrogenated, or solid at room temperature.
To drink: Tea! Keep tea in your house. Loose leaf is something you should maybe try to learn how to brew… Keep a huge variety! Nothing like sun tea in the summer! Green and black tea are my favorite caffeinated teas, but to keep things interesting, herbal teas are a must. Mints, chamomile, various flowers like lavender, sages, herbs, you name it! Experiment with tea, you might be surprised by the things you enjoy.
Coffee is something I drink every morning, one cup with some unsweetened almond milk and a teaspoon of honey is what starts my day. My favorite way to make coffee is to mix cinnamon, cacao, and chile powder into the grounds before brewing. It is seriously lovely, and helps boost your metabolism up for the day. It sounds repellant to a lot of people, but give it a try, and let me know what you think! You’ve only got one pot of coffee to lose if you don’t like it. Remember that with both coffee and tea, a whole bunch of added creams and sugars negates any of the good effects of drinking these antioxidant laden refreshments.
Honey. Listen, seriously if you haven’t hopped on the whole ‘honey and bees are the best’ bandwagon, it is time to do so. Honey is one of the single most incredible foods on this earth. Bees are essential to our survival. Get it together people. All of the benefits of honey are for another post though, they just seem to never end. Find yourself a local honey that is raw and unfiltered, and consume a teaspoon once a day. Don’t destroy it in scorching hot drinks, if you mix it into something, make sure it isn’t too hot, otherwise you’ll be losing out on the nutritional benefits. Also, one teaspoon of honey is the LIFE work of 12 bees. Don’t be a d*ck and degrade that to nothing. On this matter, bee pollen is a cool thing to have too. . .
Greens and protein powders are also good to have on hand for quick green smoothies or after workout boosts. Opt for no sugar added varieties, and plant-based if you can! Spirulina powder is a beautiful blue-green algae that is a really solid choice to have around if you can find and splurge on it! (but keep it in the fridge if you don’t go through it quickly)
Also, Red wine is good for cooking, and indulgences 🙂
Spices! : Salt. Ok guys, I know salt has a bad rap, and of course should only be used in moderation, but the right kind of salt is absolutely essential for your bodies. Regular table salt has little to no quality for you. Find sea salt. But more importantly, find a sea salt with natural flecks of coloring. These little specks (usually brown and pink) are telltale signs of a plethora of necessary minerals for your bodies. Responsibly mined salt is so good for you. Himalayan pink salt is readily available almost everywhere now, and is a good choice. My favorite, however, is mined here in the US, in Utah, it’s called RealSalt and I’ve seen it perform miracles for horses, livestock, and notably, myself. Check them out if you’re adamant about US made products.
Spices, as I have said before, are the spice of life. By cooking with plenty of herbs, you’re introducing nutrients and flavors to yourself that, as far as I’m concerned, actually improve quality of life. Always have granulated garlic on hand. Onion powder is not a bad choice. Chile powder is a must. If you’ve never had smoked paprika, I’m sad for you, and urge you to purchase some immediately. Cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, sage, bay leaves, marjoram, rosemary, dill, chervil, chives, black and red pepper, basil, cumin, thyme, nutmeg, vanilla paste, lemon and orange peel, I could go on for an egregious amount of time. Build your spice cabinet. Become familiar with these things, the way they smell, the way they re-hydrate, the way they complement or overpower. You’ll be happy with the meals you come to make with a more fleshed out spice rack.
Produce : Produce that is stable at room temperature is great. Many things are going to be a pantry or fridge choice. Generally things last longer in the fridge, or should be moved there after ripening, but certain things like tomatoes strictly don’t belong there. Try your hand at growing your own tomatoes! Eating produce you’ve grown is extremely satisfying. Other pantry produce should/may include; sweet potatoes (purple and darker red varieties are the best) Garlic bulbs, apples, certain citrus, bananas, onions, mangoes, melons, peaches, pumpkin and other winter squash.
Refrigerator staples must be kept cold or chilled, and will be used within a reasonable amount of time
Eggs are at the top of my fridge. Literally. Eggs are one of the true superfoods. And they are cheeeeaaap, especially considering the nutrition they deliver. Don’t fall for the whole “vegetarian fed” craze, chickens naturally eat all kinds of insects, and even chase mice and the like. Opt for pasture raised chicken eggs.
Greek yogurt is another fridge staple of mine. Full fat really is the right option, believe it or not. Buy only plain yogurt and mix in fresh fruit for the smartest choice. It also makes for a great replacement for sour cream. Try to take it easy on the dairy, but cheese is kinda essential to my mental health, so I get it. Bovine dairy is much more difficult for us to digest, and lower in protein and healthy fats than that from goats and sheep. Try goat cheese and sheep cheese. It is so rich and delicious, one hundred percent worth it. That being said, I also don’t drink dairy milk. I keep unsweetened Almond milk instead. You can add a touch of vanilla if you like, or try cashew or coconut milk. All better choices than dairy milk.
Keep natural nut butters in your fridge as well. Look for peanut or other nut butters whose ingredient list is reallllly slim. If it isn’t JUST the nuts, a small amount of sea salt is also acceptable. No sugar, there is no reason. It also isn’t a bad idea to keep nuts in your fridge as opposed to your pantry, especially if you don’t go through your stock fairly quickly. If you have room to spare, go for it. You can also freeze nuts, sometimes that is even the best plan of action.
Meats that you will eat fairly quickly belong here, as we all know. Don’t be afraid of bacon, but try to buy a lower salt content brand that is free of nitrates and nitrites. Like I said in this article, I know that cured meats aren’t the absolute best choice, but sustainability in a healthy lifestyle means variety that is also cost-effective. Sliced deli meats like turkey and ham and the like are delicious. Go for it. Raw meat like steak, chicken, fish and such need to be cooked within a short time period or frozen.
Produce again! Keep so many greens around you have no choice but to eat them. Have you ever tried beet greens? They are really great (and more nutritious than their famous cousin, Kale) Spinach, chard, romaine, arugula, kale, cabbage, and the king of all greens (that I have yet to get the chance to try) Watercress, are all things to aim to have on hand. Beets, carrots, celery, sprouts, summer squash (think zucchini and yellow squash) berries, cherries, ripe stone fruit and the like all belong in the fridge. Apples are best in the fridge for direct consumption, lending greater snap and firmness when bitten into. Mushrooms also go in the fridge. Buy whole mushrooms, and let them sit in the sun for 15-20 before chopping and preparing. They can soak up sunlight and convert it to vitamin D just like we can! This process also makes brushing dirt from their surface simple.
As we know, the freezer is mostly for long-term storage.
Prepared foods and meals(by you…) should be the majority of your fridge stock. What is convenient is almost always what you are going to choose to consume, especially when the day has been long, as so many of them are. Partially prepared ingredients are also really nifty to have on hand. Store all kinds of pre-cut vegetables, fruits and meats here to quickly throw together a meal anytime. Buy things in bulk on sale, set aside some time for prep work, freeze, and save yourself hundreds of headaches. I always have bags of peas, chopped peppers, sweet potatoes, portioned ground meat or patties, broccoli, homemade bone broth (real essential) and such ready for use.
We like to store nut flours and certain nuts (ahem, pine nuts) in the freezer as well. This greatly extends their shelf life. These things tend to be used infrequently, and are usually pretty pricey, so for them to go to waste would be a real pisser. Butter is kept here until such time as it is needed as well. Yes, butter is a pretty nutritious fat, though of course in moderation. Go with grass-fed, unsalted!
We all have to have some sweet frozen treat sometimes. I really try to skip ice cream. There are some great alternatives out there, but they are often pricey. Don’t be afraid to splurge occasionally, try cashew milk ice cream sometime, it’s awesome. Realistically though, these alternatives are too expensive to buy frequently and still contain more added sugar and ingredients than you should be partaking in that often anyways. I really like to freeze little single serving applesauce containers, they taste pretty awesome – basically just apple shaved ice, and almost always take care of that frozen treat craving. Try other fruit purees in the freezer! Play around and find what you like!
…That about covers it I do believe…Now we’ll be ready to dive into some recipes!
What you eat is your most important building block, it is absolutely what composes you. Keep good food around, and you will eat good food. Keep bad food around, and you will continue to eat bad food. Past you can really do you a solid by setting you up for good decisions down the road. Do yourself a favor and stock your house with real, whole, nutritious foods, and learn your way around them. Soon, you will crave good choices instead of bad ones. In no time, your good decisions will reflect upon you and your life. Take these steps for yourself and for your family, and make yourself proud!
Do you have any input?
Any tips or tricks? What are your most valued kitchen staples? Anything you love to have around that helps you live a more satisfying, healthy life? Let me know in the comments below, I’ll take all the input I can get!
Now, for the disclaimer – I am not a doctor, nutritionist, or medical authority, this is meant to be only a source of information and inspiration, implementing these techniques into your daily life is something you do of your own free will and at your own risk.
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